Is Texas the wild, wild west when it comes to COVID-19 policies?

Is Texas the wild, wild west when it comes to COVID-19 policies?

In a surprising development on March 2, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order lifting the mask mandate and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities to 100%. Granted, the number of hospital patients suffering from COVID-19 had fallen and nearly 6 million COVID-19 vaccination shots had been administered across the state.

Mississippi, Iowa, Montana and North Dakota soon followed Governor Abbott’s pioneer spirit, even though ending requirements for face coverings defies Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Despite the Lone Star State’s optimism, Texas still had 7,240 new cases and 275 COVID-19 deaths the day Governor Abbott made his announcement at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Lubbock.

Usually at odds with the Governor, Travis County and the City of Austin considered this order bad medicine and immediately issued its own mask mandate, resulting in Texas suing Travis County. Of course, all of these showdowns took place less than two weeks after Texas was hit with one of the coldest blizzards in a century, plunging the independent Texas electric grid into almost total collapse leaving millions without electricity.

The Travis County mask mandate will remain in place until at least March 26 when there will be a court hearing. We’ll soon see who wins this showdown at the Texas corral. In the meantime, where does this leave the businesses who operate in Texas?

Governor Abbott will allow businesses to require both employees and customers to follow “additional measures, including the wearing of a face covering.” His order does not overrule any federal regulations, including those from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is still on high alert, fining Missouri’s Maxi-Seal Systems $15,604 on February 23 for failing to implement proper COVID-19 precautions. This case turned out to be deadly as two machine operators tested positive for COVD-19. Evidently, the workers had labored for hours less than two feet apart without a facemask. Two weeks later, two nearby workers also tested positive, with one man dying.

Since the start of the pandemic, OSHA has conducted 300 inspections and fined 294 employers a total of $3,930,381. As OSHA stated, such inspections are not going to stop just because certain states are lifting safety restrictions for the sake of keeping the frontier free.

OSHA’s federal guidance applies to all employers in the U.S., even in Texas. Additionally, OSHA recommends employers implement a COVID-19 prevention program. Guidelines include:

• Separating and sending home potentially infected people;
• Implementing physical distancing in work areas;
• Installing barriers for physical distancing;
• Requiring face coverings;
• Improving ventilation;
• Using personal protective equipment to protect workers;
• Providing supplies for good hygiene; and
• Performing cleaning and disinfection.

Businesses in Texas are allowed to enforce their own private mask mandates, though accommodations must be made for individuals with disabilities.

In many cases, such as flying on airplanes, federal law still requires masks even if the state has rescinded such policies.

While President Joe Biden became upset with Texas for such “Neanderthal thinking,” employers are not completely alone in the wild, wild west when enforcing mask policies.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.

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